College Students Fighting Climate Change, Starting With Herbicide-Free Campuses

College students are fighting climate change little by little, starting with initiatives to rid campuses of herbicides.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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climate change

Many colleges and universities across the nation are well-known for their liberal, humanitarian activist stances. But what not be as familiar is the fact that even the most progressive campuses are using practices that are harming the environment at alarming rates, escalating climate change. Toxic herbicides are used in the majority of colleges across the nation, and now, students are fighting back and taking a stance against climate change with a herbicide-free campus movement.

When you think of the aesthetic of landscape for a college and university, what comes to mind? Typically, the answer is pristine, perfectly kept green lawns. After all, the exterior of a college is the first thing prospective students observe when scoping out potential institutions. Those green spaces don’t get their perfect appearance just from timely clipping. Much of that look is thanks to poisonous weedkillers 

Herbicides are used on college campus lawns to eliminate undesirable vegetation and weeds out of green, lush grounds. But there widespread use on campuses is contributing to climate change by increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. They have been proven to increase indirect emissions to the atmosphere because of the petroleum-based ingredients found within. What’s more, it is harming microbial life in the soil, which in turn can affect college campuses’ ability to resist climate-related extreme weather occurrences from droughts and floods

To combat this, an initiative known as Herbicide Free Campus (HFC) is helping to rid colleges and universities of the use of synthetic herbicides. The nonprofit started in California, but students on campuses all across the nation – including UC Berkeley, Grinnell College, Emory University, Sarah Lawrence College, and Indiana University have groups pushing to end the use of herbicides in favor of healthier more sustainable lawn care for climate change. Students have already had an impact on changing operations at some. UC Berkely banned synthetic pesticides altogether, except in extreme cases when needed. 

Other than gaining a sense of activism, students are connecting to nature by helping out with lawn maintenance when involved in the Herbicide Free Campus groups. These students get a break from the college experience and can unplug and unwind, which is a bonus for mental health and well-being. Furthermore, it’s bringing students together for a similar concern banning together to stop climate change. 

US News reported on one college student, Charlene Duong, who recently discovered the HFC movement when she was startled to find out that her college, Brandeis University, was abetting climate change and using toxic pesticide products. Banding together with a few classmates, Duong started an HFC group on her campus, vowing to fight climate change on a personal level. It’s given her a sense of belonging while doing something she is passionate about. 

climate change

The HFC initiative seems to be working, as a recent report from the organization shows the benefits some colleges have reaped after switching to alternatives. Harvard has seen a drop in irrigation needs by at least 30%. Cascadia College and UW Bothell in Washington are now spending a tenth of what they used to on lawn maintenance. These findings are proving that climate change can be fought, little by little, making a huge impact, and actually becoming more efficient for colleges and universities.